Microsoft isn’t disrupting the cable industry by bringing subscription TV to the Xbox 360. It’s hardly even disrupting the cable box industry. Still, this could be the start of something big.
Verizon, Comcast and other television providers around the world are partnering with Microsoft to put pay TV programming on the Xbox 360 this holiday season, but the content will be limited compared to what cable subscribers already get through their cable boxes. Verizon’s bringing a “selection of popular live TV channels,” and Comcast is only offering on-demand shows. A smattering of other individual channels and services, including Bravo, EPIX and HBO Go, are tagging along.
I like Mari Sibley’s notion that the Xbox 360 presents a way for Comcast and Verizon to test out delivery of television over the Internet in a controlled environment. “The experiment is a good one, and you’d better believe that every other cable operator will be watching closely,” she writes at Zatz Not Funny.
But it’s also an experiment for Microsoft. The company has a vision for how we’ll eventually watch TV. It’ll be powered by voice and by search, in Microsoft’s case through Kinect and Bing. Instead of using a remote control, you’ll just say what you want to watch, and the Xbox 360 will present options. (Hey, it’s kind of like the home entertainment version of Siri.) An upcoming dashboard update for the Xbox 360 will make this possible.
Microsoft can’t present its vision without a lot of content, and up until now, all the Xbox 360 had was Netflix, Hulu Plus and Zune video. Working with cable companies and telcos is a shortcut to getting lots of content, the flip side being that Microsoft doesn’t control that content, and isn’t disrupting old business models.
For now, it works. TV providers get to experiment with IPTV, and Microsoft gets to show off how future couch potatoes will live. Eventually, though, both sides are going to want more control–Microsoft over the content, and TV providers over the user experience. This marriage, however important for the future of television, isn’t built to last.